Hot Birds

Not that I’ve been consistent enough for anyone to have missed me, but I’m back. Some of the time, I was in Scottsdale, Ariz., where I took my daughter, Sassia, for a spa trip to celebrate her 21st birthday. From there, I was off to Miami on assignment, so I had my professional camera gear with me and took advantage to create some vacation shots I’d not normally get.

A funny message from Mother Nature.
A funny message from Mother Nature.
I hadn’t intended to do so, but Sassia and I were awakened early our first morning by a bunch of racket outside. It being spring, the birds were nesting in the Saguaro cactuses. The resort was teaming with birds, from Northern Flickers to hummers and a lot of Gambel’s Quail running around. I initially took out my Nikon D3 and my 200mm f2 for 10 minutes and got some decent shots, which got me hooked.

For a slide show of my shots, click here. Since I like to size my images pretty large for online presentations, I could imbed the entire show.

I like to do a little bird-watching and, from time to time during my travels, have taken some time to look at the winged creatures in different types of environments. This was really the first time I’d had a chance I’ve had to check out any desert habitat. First, I went to the Gilbert Riparian Preserve in Gilbert, Ariz., but only brought my little Leica D-Lux 4, which is great for portraits and landscapes, but doesn’t have enough reach for birds. And the place had a shocking diversity, including, to my surprise, a lot of shorebirds, with which I’m familiar, being up in Seattle.

Having learned my lesson, I packed my D700 (lighter than the D3), the 200 and a monopod when Sash and I went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Man, I fell in love with the place. The big plus was an exhibit by Dale Chihuly, who of course also is from up our way. I’d intended to produce a Soundslides show, and Sash helped with the audio. However, I wasn’t planning on being outside with the audio gear, so I didn’t bring a windscreen. We captured some interesting bird notes, but everything sounds like there’s a 747 roaring in the background.

The following aren’t my favorite shots, but I do want to make my blog entries educational on some level. These explanations probably will crack up my professional colleagues, but they will be worth something to the hobbyists.

First of all, between all the wildlife and desert plants, the Desert Botanical Garden is a hot spot for photographers. Many of them rightfully used tripods and some used additional lighting gear. We wanted to walk around, which is why I used a monopod. Plus, I couldn’t wait all day for the opportunities below and needed to be mobile. So I sacrificed some additional sharpness.

Nikon D700, 200mm f2.0, ISO 200, 1/320th at f6.3.
Nikon D700, 200mm f2.0, ISO 200, 1/320th at f6.3.

A lot of people love this shot, but I think it’s fairly simple, the main catch being finding these buggers stationary enough to squeeze the shutter. I used f6.3 on both shots because I wanted the plants and had pretty wide-open backgrounds. I used a slower shutter on this (1/320th), but not too slow because I was using the 200 lens at DX (digital) instead of full sensor and didn’t have great stability. I probably would have gotten better color on a tripod, slower shutter, smaller f-stop and lower ISO.

Nikon D700, 200mm f2.0, ISO 200, 1/800th at f6.3.
Nikon D700, 200mm f2.0, ISO 200, 1/800th at f6.3.

It’s not quite perfectly composed, but I like this shot better, mostly because I got some catch-light from the sun in the bird’s eye, which brings it to life a lot better. Right? It almost has a personality.

These aren’t your usual vacation photos, but there was a price to pay. Lugging around a lot of heavy gear isn’t always fun. I have to admit, my trip to the Riparian Preserve was great because I had a pair of binoculars and the Leica, so I was traveling light. Plus the Leica got some very good shots that I included in the slide show. On the other hand, to get something as specialized as shots of birds, I needed the bigger gear and now I have some good memories.

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